NATIONAL ROMANTICISM

   The northward migration of ideas is even more clearly visible during the period in literary and intellectual history that is referred to as romanticism. In France, Charles-Louis de Secondat Montesquieu (1689— 1755) had emphasized the significance of geographic location and climate to the development of a nation's culture. Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712—1778) had spoken in favor of the particular, nature, and the emotions as opposed to reason, culture, and the general. Already in the first half of the 18th century, the Swiss Albrecht von Haller had extolled the beauty of unspoiled nature in Die Alpen (1729), and the Scot James Macpherson called attention to the poetry of the past in his work Fragments of Ancient Poetry (1760—1765), which features his character Ossian. Edward Young's Conjectures on Original Composition (1759) elevated the individual genius above any system of rules for what constitutes proper literature.
   These are but some of the literary figures who pointed the way toward the complex of ideas and attitudes that were comprised within romanticism. Its philosophical ideas, shaped partly by the ideas of the German philosophers Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762—1814) and Friedrich Schelling (1775—1854), emphasized the unity of the object and human perception as well as the unity of spirit and nature. God, the highest manifestation of spirit, could thus be found in nature, and the romantic genius was thought to be able to apprehend the divine and thus have a prophetic function. Johann Gottfried von Herder (1744—1803) emphasized both the role of the nation and of language and the connection to the divine spirit that could be found in the natural world.
   Starting with the Danish writer Adam Oehlenschlager (1779—1850), Scandinavian artists and intellectuals were profoundly influenced by the ideas of romanticism. While the strictly philosophical side of the movement was of some significance, its nationalistic aspects became paramount in Scandinavia. Oehlenschlager's poem "Guldhornene" (1802; The Golden Horns), for example, features a young man who finds a golden horn with a runic inscription on it while plowing his field. This young man is referred to as the son of nature who has been chosen by nature's indwelling spirit to make the discovery. Without conventional learning, he is unspoiled by civilization and thus worthy of his calling. Many of the characteristics of the variant of the romantic movement
   that became known as national romanticism can be observed in this example: the scene of action is nature as opposed to culture; the main actor is an unlearned youth, a young man of the people; the central object is of great value, symbolized by its being made of gold and further symbolizing the value of the subject that is being discussed in the poem; the activity of plowing lays stress on the connection between the nation and its soil; writing, as an expression of the true spirit of the people, is present; the main object, including the writing on it, is of ancient origin, thus emphasizing the continuity of the nation over time.
   Another characteristic example of the literature of national romanticism is a short story by the Norwegian writer Maurits Hansen (17941842) entitled "Luren" (1819; The Shepherd's Horn), in which the narrator tells about a visit to a Norwegian farm family in the interior of the country. The farmer, who bears the name of the Old Norse god Thor, is said to be a direct descendant of the ancient king Harald Fineh-air, and his daughter Ragnhild is named for king Harald's mother. Special mention is made of Thor's powerful and expressive dialect, the traditional dress of the members of the family, and their food ways. As in Oehlenschlager's poem, there is an emphasis on the continuity between the present and the nation's past, the connection between the people and the soil, and the role of language. But some elements of the story may indicate Hansen was aware that the ideal national-romantic scene he painted was, at least to some extent, a rhetorical construction.2
   In Iceland, the poetry of Joonas Hallgrimsson (1807-1845) emphasized the past of the nation and the significance of its language. Esaias Tegner (1782-1846) and Per Daniel Amadeus Atterbom (1790-1855) exemplify the national romanticism movement in Sweden, where Auroraforbundet (The Aurora Society), which published the journal Phosphorus, was an important voice for romanticism. Tegner's Frithiofs saga (1825; tr. 1833) expands a brief Old Norse story into a Swedish national epic of 24 songs. In Finland, the later stage of national romanticism is seen in the folklore collections of Elias Lönnrot (1802-1884) and the work of Johan Ludvig Runeberg (1804-1877), particularly his play Kung Fjalar (1844; tr. King Fjalar, 1904), a classic example of the movement's antiquarian side.
   The most enduring significance of national romanticism is its attitude toward the oral literature of the people. The enthusiasm that educated people felt for the past and the descendants of the glorious men and women of old resulted in an effort to collect ballads, folktales, and legends and then to identify their origins and most ancient forms. Next, the folklore materials thus collected and analyzed began to influence the works of educated writers. In its subject matter and language, the work of Danish short story writer and poet Steen Steensen Blicher (17821848), for example, shows the influence of folk literature. Based on the dialects spoken in Norway, the self-taught linguist Ivar Aasen (18131896) single-handedly created Landsmaal (country language), a separate written form of Norwegian that provided an alternative to the Danish-influenced form that was the standard at the time. But the work of the national romantics was also treated with a heavy dose of irony and satire, as in the play Peer Gynt (1867; tr. 1892) by Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906), in which the eponymous protagonist has both pleasant and frightening interactions with folklore creatures. But that very same Ibsen also wrote plays which used material from history and folklore without indulging in irony.

Historical Dictionary of Scandinavian Literature and Theater. . 2006.

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